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Building a Culture of Sun Safety for Nevada’s Youth

Photo of children gathered around a sunscreen dispenser provided by Nevada’s Sun Smart Schools programChildren gather around a sunscreen dispenser provided by Nevada’s Sun Smart Schools program.

More Nevada youth are staying sun-safe and lowering their risk of skin cancer thanks to the state’s Sun Smart Schools program. The program is a collaboration between the Nevada Cancer Coalition, the state of Nevada, community partners, and schools. It teaches students about sun safety, encourages schools to adopt sun-smart policies, and promotes access to sunscreen and shade on school grounds.

Launched in seven schools across Nevada in the 2015–2016 school year, Sun Smart Schools has grown to include 42 schools and 17,150 students in just 3 years. The program uses age-appropriate, evidence-based lessons to improve knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors about exposure to ultraviolet rays. Schools are encouraged to adopt written policies that support sun-safe practices, like providing shade and encouraging students and staff to use sunscreen and wear sun-protective clothing.

In its first year, the seven participating schools (grades prekindergarten through 12) taught nearly 2,500 students about sun safety and changed school policies. Student surveys showed that students wore sun-protective clothing, including long-sleeved shirts, hats, and sunglasses, more often after the program was launched.

In the 2016–2017 school year, the program expanded to include 22 public, private, and parochial schools, representing more than 10,000 students. Surveys were expanded to capture demographic characteristics, like gender, race, and grade, and include additional questions about sun-safety knowledge and attitudes. Students, parents, teachers, and school nurses were surveyed.

Survey results showed that elementary and middle school students and parents learned about sun safety and did more to protect their skin from the sun. Older students, parents, and teachers were more likely to believe that having tanned skin makes you look better. More than 4 in 5 male teachers said they and their friends look better with a tan, and about 1 in 4 high school boys said they never use sunscreen.

“Finding effective ways to change sun-safety attitudes and to improve sun-safe behaviors among older students and male educators will be an ongoing challenge,” said Christine Thompson, Community Programs Manager of the Nevada Cancer Coalition. “But with more Nevada students receiving sun-safety education from a young age, we expect to reduce skin cancer incidence statewide for future generations.”

For more information about Nevada’s Sun Smart Schools program, visit http://nevadacancercoalition.org/sun-smart-nevada.

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